By jim zbick
In the space of three days during the spring of 1912, Tamaqua residents celebrated two separate sports that had put the town on the statewide map high school basketball and prize fighting.
First, the basketball team, recognized as one of the best in the state, was honored with an "elegant chicken and waffle supper" at the American Hotel. Professor A.C. Lewis, in toasting the "athletics of the future," said that judging from its fine record, "Tamaqua has got the ball rolling in basket ball."
Principal Oswald also impressed the banquet audience when he spoke of how school loyalty was a "sacred thing which every student should have."
"Don't knock (it) if you cannot boast," he said in promoting school pride. "Stand by your school through thick and thin."
Monograms of blue and white color and in the old English style were presented to members of the squad who appeared in at least five games.
Three days after the banquet, the town was abuzz again with the arrival of another prime time boxing event at Walker's Hall featuring Summit Hill's own Jimmy Bonner against Wilkes-Barre's Al Dewey. In a pre-fight interview with the Tamaqua Courier, Bonner promised fans he would give Dewey a workout.
"I will make that fighting Pole go the fastest 12 rounds that he has ever gone," Bonner said to the Tamaqua Courier. "I know that I must win if I want to be in the fighting game and as an inducement the manager of the Tamaqua A.C. has promised me two good fights, the first a return match with K.O. Brown and the second with Battling Nelson, ex-lightweight champion of the world. So you can tell my friends that I will be in the shape of my life and I expect to finish Dewey before 12 rounds are over."
Just seven weeks earlier, Dewey had outpointed Bonner in a grueling 20-round fight in Tamaqua. This time, both boxers used a more tactical approach, depending on more body punches and probing his opponent for an opening.
"In several rounds the men let loose and gave the fans a taste of their real speed, but they were only flashes," the Courier stated.
At the end, Ed Holland, a respected referee from Philadelphia, announced the fight a draw, to the dismay of local fans.
One visitor to Walker's Hall that night was a writer from the Lehighton Leader who was simply known as "The Pencil Pusher."
Courier fans were not too thrilled after reading the observations of the Lehighton writer, whose column first appeared in the Leader on March 29 and was then reprinted by the Courier. The column spoofed the quality of life in Tamaqua. A Courier writer later retaliated by calling the article a "poorly written mess of exaggerations and borrowed jokes."
"Having been detailed to visit Tamaqua, by reason of the fact that it has lately been very much on the map, I will, now endeavor to cite facts," the Lehighton scribe said in introducing the column.
As for the fight, he was critical of how Tamaqua officials interpreted (and made their own) boxing rules.
"Prize fights of 20 and 12 round duration are all the go the law allows 10 but Tamaqua passed a special act for itself, how selfish," he said.
In taking his first shot at the town itself, he stated that not all of the fight action was inside Walker's Hall, but on the streets outside.
"Men punch each other to pieces on the street, with the police just one square off," he said.
Here are some other personal observances he made in the column:
Ÿ "There is no question about it, Tamaqua is some town, almost everything goes, even money. There is no moss on the backs of its citizens and no grass on its streets. The flies even refuse to sit on the people. Everybody owns an automobile and those who have not, have the wheelbarrows or baby coaches.
Ÿ "The Constitution of the United States and the laws of Pennsylvania don't even bother the people, and everything moves along smoothly.
Ÿ "Poker joints are not so plentiful; they only have five of them and I am not quite sure, but I think there are two houses of ill repute. Sometime ago one of these was chased out of town by the northern but returned through the south gate the next day.
Ÿ "At present they are passing through a mad dog scare, while the human dogs live on."
Ÿ He said people have no trouble seeing a picture show in a church on a Sunday night.
"Moving picture shows are in abundance, the churches having caught the spirit, which gives the town picture shows seven nights in a week."
Ÿ He said Broad Street, the main thoroughfare, is called the "Great White Way" and is "brilliantly lighted every night by a string of lights one foot apart on both sides of the street, making it as light as day."
Ÿ "There are a couple of fellows up there who have two wives; the same can be said of some of the women."
Ÿ "By gosh it's great in Tamaqua. You can't get in a saloon there on Sunday because they are too full. The license judge limited the town to 51 places (saloons) a saloon for every 240 people and you can readily see there are not enough saloons to go around, and yet the people do not suffer."